[By Stephen Amason, Special to ETSN.fm]

Some may have wondered what the Pleasant Grove Hawks were going to look like this season after bringing home the school’s first state championship last season.

As expected, each opponent has played their best football against them. Every team wants to beat the defending state champs.

Pleasant Grove (7-2, 3-0 in District 6-4A Division II) has handled the post-championship pressure well, and has played sound football all year. The Hawks have won some big non-district games early, but did lose a couple against a good Gladewater team at home and against currently undefeated Carthage on the road.

However, as for how they’ve fared in district play, they’ve been perfect.

Friday night, the Hawks play Spring Hill for a chance at winning their second-straight district title.

Pleasant Grove has a younger team this year, but the seniors on the team have stepped up in their leadership roles. And though the Hawks feel as if they have what it takes to make another run at a state title, they understand the work they have in front of them.

“Our kids have a lot of confidence that our best football is yet to come,” Pleasant Grove head football coach Josh Gibson said. “We would like to make another deep run and that's what we have our eyes set on is another opportunity at that but, it’s a long ways away and we have a lot of games to take care of before then.”

The Hawks are led by a strong running game, featuring running backs Bruce Garrett with 986 yards and nine touchdowns on the year and James Wiggins with 743 yards and six touchdowns.

“Bruce is a returning 1,000-yard running back, he was our sophomore of the year in our district last year,” Gibson said. “He’s a big-time playmaker, he’s one of the best backs in East Texas, he has great speed, great power, and we are able to lean on him a lot.

“James is a kiddo that played behind TJ Cole, who was an all-state player so James didn’t get as much experience last year but with the opportunity that he’s big given this year and earned, he’s been an extremely physical runner for us at the fullback position.”

The running game has been helped by the Hawks’ ability to make big plays with the passing game, which averages more than 20 yards per catch.

Quarterback Ben Harmon has more than 1,000 yards passing with 14 touchdowns and only two interceptions on the year.

Pleasant Grove’s defense is anchored by sophomore defensive end Landon Jackson, a five-star recruit with several Division I college football offers already. Currently he has 56 tackles, with 15 tackles for loss, and six sacks on the year.

“He’s a big-time player, really good athlete that provides a ton of pressure, he’s physical too,” Gibson said. “He’s a big part of that front seven that stops the run.”

The Hawks might be fired up for the playoffs, but Spring Hill (2-6, 0-2) is up first.

“The thing about Spring Hill the past two years, they’ve played everybody really tough,” Gibson said. “I think they’re a scrappy, well-coached team that gets after it. We gotta go in and play a really clean game and not get turnovers or penalties, or have missed assignments. I think if we can play a clean game and don’t get too many penalties, I think we can come away with the victory if everything goes right.”